Cover letters accompany your résumé when you can’t. They introduce you to
your potential employer. Effective cover letters identify the position you
are interested in by referencing the job title and the requisition number,
when available. They add value to your résumé by highlighting your
qualifications. There is no such thing as a good generic cover letter! If it
is generic, then it won’t be effective.|
Your cover letter delivers when it
brings you a telephone call or a face-to-face meeting. It should emphasize
your skills and accomplishments as they relate to the organization and be
easy to read.
Do Your Research
Do you have a contact in the organization? If so, ask if you can use his
or her name in the letter to make a connection. If not, can you find a
contact in the organization? It’s worth checking to see if your best
friend’s mom has a cousin who works for the company. Whenever possible try
to find a contact inside the organization. It usually makes for a warmer
reception all around.
Before you begin to write your cover letter, know the job requirements
and research the company! Visit the company’s Web site. If you know someone
who works for the company, talk to him or her to get the inside scoop. The
more you know about the company—their products, services, and needs—the
better able you will be to craft a cover letter that gets their attention.
Determine What You Can Offer
Now that you know what the company needs, determine how you can help them
meet those needs. What can you do to solve the hiring manager’s problems?
Tie your knowledge, skills, and abilities directly to the job requirements
and stress why you are an excellent fit for the position.
Polish Each Part
Every part of your letter has a job to do. Make sure each part works
The heading on your cover letter should match the heading on your
résumé—it gives your package a professional appearance.
Job seekers frequently make the mistake of addressing their letters “To
whom it may concern.” My response to that is, does it concern me? Nope! Does
it concern the guy at the next desk? Probably not!
Another ineffective salutation is “Dear Sir or Madam.” Frankly, I may be
a sir or a madam—but I am hardly both! Once again, it pays to do your
research and find the name of the person who will be reviewing your résumé.
Address the cover letter to that individual.
As a last resort, you can always use these salutations: “Dear Hiring
Manager,” “Attention Hiring Manager,” or “Dear Reader.” Because this is a
business letter, always follow the salutation with a colon.
Hook the reader with a must-read opening sentence. For example:
“Congratulations on the recent article in the San Jose Mercury News, which
described Data Delivery’s rapid growth in the last six months.” Or “Janet
Jones of Clearwater Corp. suggested I contact you regarding the
administrative specialist position.” Note: you may only use Janet’s name
with her permission!
Your first paragraph must identify your reason for writing—your interest
in a specific position. You should highlight the position and its
corresponding reference number in bold type. That way, even if the person
does not read your letter, he or she can easily identify the job category
you best fit.
The second paragraph summarizes your experience and accomplishments. It
explains why you are the person for the job. Be clear; don’t expect the
employer to take time to figure out why you’d be great for the position.
Match your skills and qualifications with the requirements of the job. I
prefer the two-column approach that puts your qualifications side-by-side
with requirements, but you can use a list or simply write a paragraph.
Sample Two-Column Approach
Your requirements: Develop standard operating procedures My Skills:
Developed and implemented a tool calibration system to meet IS09001
Sample One-Column Approach
My qualifications for the position include:
• establishing sales offices in France, Great Britain, and Spain
• recruiting and managing international sales representatives
• developing and implementing training programs for the European offices
• briefing staff on our products and those of our competitors
• generating more than $12 million in sales with excellent margins
Sample Paragraph Approach
For the past six years I have been involved with all phases of Human
Resources Management with a Fortune 500 company. In my current position, I
developed a competitive recruitment program, incorporated a 360° performance
appraisal system, and designed a cutting-edge cafeteria-style benefit
package that increased employee benefit options while keeping costs to a
minimum. As you can see, these accomplishments are directly related to the
requirements listed in your job posting.
In the third paragraph always tell them that you are looking forward to
meeting with them to discuss your skills and experience. Let them know that
you will follow up with them and approximately when. Use whatever words you
are most comfortable with, but you must indicate that they can expect to
hear from you soon.
Finally, thank them for taking time to review your résumé and/or for
considering you for the position. Thank them for something. Most people are
not thanked frequently enough, so set yourself apart by thanking the reader
for his or her interest.
End your letter with “Sincerely” or “Best regards.” Drop down four lines
and type your first and last name. Drop down two lines and type “Enclosure”
to indicate that you are enclosing your résumé. Sign your name above your
typed name and include your résumé.
In every part of your letter, make it easy for the reader to screen you
“in.” Follow these guidelines and soon you’ll get the jump on your
Mary Jeanne Vincent is the author of Acing the Interview tip cards
featuring scripting ideas for the top 20 “killer” interview
questions. Also included are tips for interviewing in the new
economy, ideas for responding to illegal and trick questions, and
suggestions for avoiding deadly interview mistakes. You may reach
her online at